My time in Japan last year has been the source of many conversations, most people are interested to hear my thoughts on the country and a bit confused about my work there. Seems like the subject deserves at least a blog post with pictures and some explanation to clear things up.
I took 4 trips to the islands of Nippon last year, totalling about 8 weeks. Most of the time was spent working though I did take some time for tourism my first trip there. I explored a handful of climbing areas on days off, toured many temples and shrines and ate a lifetime’s worth of noodles and fish.
The company I worked for, Ecochlor, is a designer and producer of ballast water treatment technology. For the truly curious a thorough explanation of their work can be found on their website. For the rest of you, here’s my abbreviated version.
In 2004 the IMO (International Maritime Organization) adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. If you don’t know, most ships use water ballast to maintain proper draft, stability and control. Here’s a better definition from the EPA:
“Ballast water is water from a port or other location that is taken onboard a ship and stored in tanks to add weight, thereby maintaining the ship’s trim and stability. For example, ballast water is often taken onboard as cargo is unloaded, and discharged as cargo is loaded.
Prior to departure or while en route, a ship may need to take ballast water onboard to maintain its stability and safety or to maximize its propulsion efficiency. On entry into a port, the ship may need to discharge ballast water to lighten the ship in order to maintain clearance under the keel in navigational channels or berthing areas, or to offset additional weight resulting from the loading of cargo or fuel.”
As our world trends (oh so slowly) towards environmental responsibility regulatory groups are starting to act on practices that endanger the earth.
In the words of the EPA (link):
“Ballast water is a major source for introducing non-native species into aquatic ecosystems where they would not otherwise be present. If the non-native species become established, they can adversely impact the economy or the environment, or cause harm to human health. For example, the management of zebra mussels near the Great Lakes has cost the U.S. economy millions of dollars annually. Costs include cleaning, monitoring, and retrofitting water intake pipes. Additionally, zebra mussels accumulate high levels of toxins which leads to health advisories for species in the food web.”
So, as the demand for ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) becomes a legal necessity, companies like Ecochlor have developed hardware that addresses the issue. I’ll try to outline their system while giving some insight into my time there.
First, a word about shipyards.
All of my work in Japan took place at the Sanoyas shipyard just outside the village of Kurashiki. If you’ve never been to a shipyard it’s an intensely industrial setting, full of welding and the movement of incredibly large chunks of steel in various stages of construction. It’s loud, noxious and overall pretty harsh but at the same time it’s strangely fascinating and impressive. Sanoyas produces around a dozen bulkers a year, each about 1000 feet in length with 7 immense cargo holds. I spent some time in one of the holds while we tested some ballast water.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself but the scale of this place is important and hard to convey. Here are a few photos of massive things moving through the air. Sanoyas has several large cranes, the largest of which has an 800 ton capacity. One more time, 800 TONS. They have two of these and sometimes, when a particularly giant piece of ship needs to move, they use them both in concert. Respect.
Okay, so during my first trip my main duty was to document the assembly of the filter system. Ecochlor’s BWTS is comprised of a filtering system and a chemical system. My dad, Mike, who hooked me up with this whole work opportunity, along with a crew of Japanese shipyard employees, used small cranes, wrenches and a generous helping of elbow grease to put these things together.
My dad (the Gaijin second from right) plots the filter assembly
My dad and I checked out Kyoto for a day before work started, a blog about that can be found here. We had a few more days together after work was over and then I took a week for some solo exploration. I settled into a Osaka hostel and ranged out from that city to check out some climbing and culture. Our colleague Isa-San invited me to his home on the island of Kyushu where I spent a couple days getting a thorough tour.
The highlight of my time with my dad was a Japanese baseball game. The Japanese have an unusual fervor for the game, I’ve never seen such passionate fans in the states, where we claim it as a national past-time…
I then checked out the boulders at Kitayama Koen, the conditions were less than ideal but the view was good and worth the adventure.
I took an overnight bus to Sasebo, where Isa and his wife live. Travelling in Japan is efficient but expensive, a bullet train travels almost as fast as an airplane but costs about the same too, so I suffered through a long bus ride. Despite less than ideal weather Isa was a gracious host and gave me a broad view of his home island.
This last photo is of the sidewalk restaurant Isa took me too before sending me back to Osaka. Besides the novelty of street side cooking, this little stall made the best gyoza I’ve ever had. Back in the big city for a few more days I checked out a couple more bouldering areas before flying back to Seattle.
Takedao was a multi day, full value adventure. Day 1 involved no climbing but lots of wandering through rarely visited forests and by creepy shacks and other abandoned signs of life. Near the end of the day I discovered the correct path to the boulder but it was too late. The next day I returned and while I knew where to go the adventure insisted on continuing. I had to walk through three creepy tunnels, reputed to hide the occasional creepy mugger, and when I finally got to the business of climbing a huge chunk of one of the problems fell off, luckily when I was at a safe distance. A memorable climbing trip with very little climbing.
Kasagi went smoother but didn’t last as long. I arrived in the evening and had just enough time to flail around on a really cool problem full of thumb holds.
This post is turning into something of an epic (and the coffee shop employees are probably wondering if I’ll ever leave) so I’ll save the rest for another day.